What is organic?
Organic products have been grown, raised, or produced without harmful chemicals. Organic produce is untouched by pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic modification, or ionising radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are taken from animals that were not injected with growth hormones or antibiotics.
Most people associate organic with food products, and rightly so. Harmful chemicals are direct threats to our digestive systems. Nevertheless, organic is also relevant for the non-food products we apply to our bodies. These toxic ingredients can be absorbed through the skin and affect the body in similar ways.
What are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not considered organic. GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a lab. Supporters argue growing GMO seeds increases crop yields and drought tolerance and enhances nutrition. Opponents counter that it creates unstable combinations of genes that don’t occur naturally or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
For us consumers, it’s concerning. The science is too new to know how these GM products will affect our bodies in the long-term.
A Brief History on Organic Farming
All farming was organic for most of history. In WWII, farming methods began to change. When DTT was first developed in 1939, it marked a turning point for more and more chemical use in industrial agriculture.
As the use of chemicals grew, so did the organic movement. Organic farming methods came to Australia sometime in the early- to mid-1900s, and we were the home of the first organic farming association.
GMOs came later. The first GMO patent was awarded in 1980 for GM bacteria designed to clean up oil spills. Shortly after, in the 90s, GM products hit store shelves. Under corporate giants like Monsanto, GM activity has since grown.
Countries have responded differently to GM products. GMOs are more restricted in Australia than in the US, for example. The only approved GM crops are soybean, canola, corn, potato, sugar beet, cotton, wheat, and rice.
Globally, soybeans are the biggest GM crop. As much as 90 percent is genetically modified, including soy lecithin, a common ingredient in packaged food. GM cotton and GM canola can be grown commercially in Australia. Though, as of 2015, South Australia and Tasmania both have a ban on GM canola. Other GM foods can be imported and used as ingredients in packaged goods, and they don’t always need to be labeled.
The Biggest Issues & Why They Are Important
1. Ingesting or Absorbing Harmful Ingredients
Ingesting toxins is the biggest concern with non-organic. This applies to both food and non-food goods. Toxic chemicals in face creams, for example, are absorbed through the skin and can affect the body similarly. Other at-risk beauty items include lotions, perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, and conditioners.
Why It’s Important
When you use something treated with harmful chemicals, you absorb some of them into your body. Increasing your body’s toxic load can have unwanted health effects.
2. Eating Hormones
Mass-produced cows, chickens, pigs, and farmed fish are commonly fed with animal parts, by-products, fish meal, and grains treated with toxins and chemicals. Antibiotics, drugs, and growth hormones are also used regularly in the meat and dairy industries. This is done to artificially increase the amount of meat and milk produced without needing extra feed. These substances accumulate in fatty tissues and are passed on to you.
Why It’s Important
Some in the scientific community fear this causes dangerous hormonal disruption in the body, specifically the early onset of puberty, tumor growth, heightened cancer risks, and genetic problems.
Pollutants also come from the food containers we use. BPA, a chemical found in plastics, is believed to cause hormonal disruption too. Now plenty of companies claim to be BPA-free. Yet, studies in 2015 (#1, #2) suggest the replacement chemicals for BPA are no safer.
3. Increases in Herbicide Use, Superbugs & Superweeds
GMOs are engineered to tolerate pesticides. Stephen Leeder, from the University of Sydney, told news.com.au, “A lot of GM crops are engineered to tolerate 10 times the normal level of herbicides.” As a side effect, chemical overuse has led to the evolution of “superweeds” and “superbugs” which are harder to kill.
Why It’s Important
Growers have to use even stronger, more toxic poisons to kill off these evolved super strains. As a consequence, our bodies and ecosystems are exposed to an ever growing number of harmful chemicals.
4. Poisoned Soil, Air, Water, Local Plant- & Animal-life
Toxic farming doesn’t happen in a vacuum but rather in a connected, complex ecosystem. When farmers use harmful chemicals, some of those toxins escape into the groundwater and soil and affect local plant- and animal-life.
Why It’s Important
Once toxins are introduced into an ecosystem, they spread. They work their way into our food, bodies, and surrounding environment… and they’re here to stay forever.
5. Undisclosed GMOs & Confusing Labels
Though Australia has somewhat strong domestic GM standards, imported GM products can be used in goods without your knowledge. Jessica Harrison from GM Free Australia Alliance claims, “Corn is 90 per cent GM in the US, and if that’s used in Australian-manufactured biscuits or bread, no labelling is required.”
According to Australian regulations GM foods must be labeled, but there are some exceptions in which they may legally go undisclosed:
- In highly refined foods, such as sugars and oils, where processing has removed the GM DNA and protein,
- In GM flavourings in a concentration of 0.1% or less
- When 1% or less (per ingredient) of an approved GM food in accidentally mixed into a non-GM food.
- In food intended for immediate consumption that is prepared and sold from food premises and vending vehicles like restaurants, takeaway food outlets, and caterers
Non-organic labels sometimes try to create a feeling of organic-ness with specific colors and words like “pure”, “natural”, and “green”. Without approved certifications, you have no guarantee that these claims are honest.
Why It’s Important
Labels are misleading. You thought you bought organic and GMO free, but in reality, you can’t be sure.
6. Conflict of Interest in GMO Safety Reports
Many GMO safety studies are carried out by the same companies that make and benefit from GM product sales. There’s a serious conflict of interest.
Why It’s Important
Because the study’s results might be skewed to favor the funding companies, we can’t trust their findings.
Take Action: How to Support Organic When You Shop
It may be impossible to completely eliminate all the toxins from your life, but going organic can cut out a HUGE portion.
On top of that, every time we choose organic products, we signal to growers and manufacturers that organic is important. As more customers demand certified organic, more companies will get on board—eliminating toxic chemical use at the source!
Here are a few questions you can use everyday to make more organic purchases:
- Is the product certified organic by an approved organisations? If not, be cautious with the label’s claims.
- Can you choose a glass container instead of a plastic one? The jury is still out on the safety of BPA replacements. Studies have shown that they are no safer than the original BPA. It’s best to eliminate plastic and choose glass when available.
Labels can be confusing. Companies try to create a false sense of organic-ness, and some GM ingredients can legally go unlabeled. To have confidence in what you buy, look for trusted certifications.
Australian Approved Organic Certification Organisations
As of 2016, six organic certification organisations are approved by the Department of Agriculture:
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO) ensures compliance with national production standards and allows trace back of all products to their origin.
- NASAA Certified Organic (NCO) guarantees that growers comply with NASAA’s written standards, prove they have a management plan in place to run their land organically, and allow inspections of their farms.
- Organic Food Chain certifies producers, processors, wholesalers, exporters, and retailers according to the National Standards for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce.
- AUS-QUAL’s Organic Certification for organic and bio-dynamic produce provides a framework for the organic industry, covering production, transportation, labelling, and importation.
- Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI) is a nonprofit certification that demands the highest quality application of the biodynamic method, supports family farms and businesses, and encourages community based, sustainable, ecological activities.
- Safe Food Production Queensland (SFQ) works in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Queensland Health across the entire food chain to protect Queensland’s food supply.
Internationally Recognised Organic Labels
- Natrue-Label ensures cosmetic products are as natural as possible, using natural and organic ingredients, soft manufacturing processes, and environmentally friendly practices.
- The Recognised label guarantees the environmental safety of commercial cleaning products like bathroom cleaners, hand hygiene products, and dishwashing products.